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J Exp Biol. 2012 Apr 15;215(Pt 8):1247-57. doi: 10.1242/jeb.056549.

The diversity of hydrostatic skeletons.

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  • 1University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


A remarkably diverse group of organisms rely on a hydrostatic skeleton for support, movement, muscular antagonism and the amplification of the force and displacement of muscle contraction. In hydrostatic skeletons, force is transmitted not through rigid skeletal elements but instead by internal pressure. Functioning of these systems depends on the fact that they are essentially constant in volume as they consist of relatively incompressible fluids and tissue. Contraction of muscle and the resulting decrease in one of the dimensions thus results in an increase in another dimension. By actively (with muscle) or passively (with connective tissue) controlling the various dimensions, a wide array of deformations, movements and changes in stiffness can be created. An amazing range of animals and animal structures rely on this form of skeletal support, including anemones and other polyps, the extremely diverse wormlike invertebrates, the tube feet of echinoderms, mammalian and turtle penises, the feet of burrowing bivalves and snails, and the legs of spiders. In addition, there are structures such as the arms and tentacles of cephalopods, the tongue of mammals and the trunk of the elephant that also rely on hydrostatic skeletal support but lack the fluid-filled cavities that characterize this skeletal type. Although we normally consider arthropods to rely on a rigid exoskeleton, a hydrostatic skeleton provides skeletal support immediately following molting and also during the larval stage for many insects. Thus, the majority of animals on earth rely on hydrostatic skeletons.

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